In 2000, the Board of Trustees approved a proposal from the Northland College Student Association for a student-led,
student-financed, student-run fund for campus sustainability. And REF, later re-named REFund, was born.
“We wanted to see results, to put our money where our mouth is,” said Trustee Ben Shepherd who was NCSA president when the effort began.
Since then, students have dedicated more than a half-million of their dollars—raised through student fees—into projects that range from buying a Toyota Prius for admissions in 2006 to purchasing composting buckets for the residential halls in 2015—and at least forty other projects in between.
“The long-term impact on the campus is significant,” said Kate Ullman, teaching instructor and former sustainability coordinator. “You can look around and see REFund projects all around you.”
In the last two years alone. REFund has added to campus, bike racks, fountains for filling water bottles, and mosaic murals, and retrofitted LED lights in the Larson Juhl Center for Science and the Environment.
The projects all aspire to improve sustainability on campus. Students have the unique opportunity to dream up ideas, create a proposal, pitch the proposal to students, and then work with the sustainability committee to implement the projects.
“It was a great opportunity to spread our wings and show what could be achieved if everyone chipped in a bit more to do greater things as a group than we could do on our own individually,” Shepherd said. “Faculty and staff saw the value and helped push and it was the closest thing to a business plan that many of us had written at that point in our lives.”
In 2019, student Liam Janson pitched the idea of a mobile sauna first to students then to the Sustainability Committee. His sauna would be built from reclaimed wood by him and his father at his father’s woodshop. They built the sauna over the summer of 2019 and hauled the trailer to campus—and then the pandemic hit before the first fire was lit.
For now, it sits in a parking lot and Liam is working with the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute to develop policies and protocols to ensure a longer life for the sauna on campus. “It is unparalleled, the way students have invested in infrastructure to save energy, water, and build green communities,” Ullman said.
In 2018, the Northland College Student Association voted to invest $32,000 for 20kW of solar shares from a community solar garden down the road. The energy harnessed now powers the Larson Juhl Center for Science and the Environment and greenhouse.
“REFund continues to allow students to invest our money where we determine it will have the greatest positive impact in our community and society as a whole,” said Jenise Swartley ’19, who was NCSA president at the time.